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Overtime victories prove field hockey is cool under pressure

During+the+2023+regular+season%2C+the+Ithaca+College+field+hockey+team+boasted+a+perfect%2C+4%E2%80%930%2C+record+in+overtime+play.+The+Bombers+earned+post-regulation+victories+over+the+University+of+Scranton%2C+Skidmore+College%2C+SUNY+New+Paltz%2C+and+the+University+of+Rochester.
Nolan Saunders
During the 2023 regular season, the Ithaca College field hockey team boasted a perfect, 4–0, record in overtime play. The Bombers earned post-regulation victories over the University of Scranton, Skidmore College, SUNY New Paltz, and the University of Rochester.

On Oct. 10 at Higgins Stadium, the regulation clock expired during a matchup between the Ithaca College field hockey team and the SUNY New Paltz Hawks. The scoreboard read 1–1 as an overtime period commenced under the lights.

It was not the first time the Bombers were forced into this position — in fact, the game would mark the team’s third overtime competition of the 2023 season. After eight minutes of fast-paced play, junior striker Natalie Descalso released a drive from the arc that deflected off the stick of junior midfielder Meara Bury, ultimately securing the Bombers’ victory.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Descalso said. “It’s like a wave rushes over your body — an indescribable feeling. As soon as you hear the ball hit the backboard and you know the game is over and you know you put it all on the line for your team — it’s just so rewarding.”

The Bombers would go on to play in one more overtime-bound competition during the regular season, managing to come out with another swift, 1–0, win over the University of Rochester on Oct. 15. The victory improved the team’s post-regulation record to a perfect 4–0; the first time the team has ever gone undefeated during extra time in program history.

Head coach Kaitlyn Wahila said the team began practicing overtime strategy in early September by working on formation and penalty corner plays, but the real game experience became increasingly valuable as the season went on.

“We really haven’t had to practice it much in the later part of our season because we’ve pretty regularly been put into those high pressure game situations,” Wahila said. “It’s gotten to a point where I give them one or two sound bites during the huddle, but they know exactly what we should be doing.”

In field hockey, regulation is played in an 11-on-11 formation for four 15-minute quarters. If the game ends in a draw, however, the field shifts to a 7-on-7 lineup for a maximum of two 10-minute periods. If there is no change in score by the end of the second period, the game will resort to a 1-on-1, best of five shootout.

On Sept. 30, the team competed in its first shootout since 2018 in a high-intensity matchup against the Skidmore College Thoroughbreds. The Bombers dominated the frame, 3–1, securing a 3–2 in-conference victory.

Descalso, who has competed in all 11 overtime matchups since joining the program in 2021, said she continues to learn something new every time she steps on the field.

“Last season we went into overtime quite a bit and I was always in that lineup, so I learn from my experience every time,” Descalso said. “As soon as the clock is running down in the fourth quarter and I know we’re going into overtime, I tell myself to take a deep breath and forget those four quarters. We’ve been here before so we know what to do.”

In 2022, the team broke even at 3–3 in overtime matchups. In 2021, the team did not compete in overtime until postseason play, ultimately going 1–1 in the Liberty League tournament. Wahila said this season’s squad has never shied away from the intensity of overtime, and that her athletes’ confidence ensures her that they can get the job done.

“They make me feel like I’m gonna be alright, I can settle,” Wahila said. “They’re so into it and we can be coaching, but they’ll be looking at us like, ‘Yeah, just get us on the field. We’ve got this,’ and I think that’s what separates this team from others.”

This season, senior goalkeeper Alex Clough took over the starting position in the cage after the team graduated Macy Brandwein ’23. Clough’s position allows her a front row seat to the action of overtime on the field, but she said it is her teammates off the field that truly make all the difference.

“Having that big of a sideline is so electric, I don’t even know how to describe it,” Clough said. “For the past few years, I’ve been the goalie on the sideline and all the heart that sideline puts into overtime makes such a difference. Yeah, the energy on the field feels really different, but you’re still surrounded by this insane energy from your team, which is really cool.”

With zero goals allowed in post-regulation, Clough said she keeps a clear head by reminding herself that her job is the same regardless of what the scoreboard says.

“Whether it’s overtime or regular gameplay, I’m just thinking I can’t let the ball behind me,” Clough said. “I try really hard to focus on the next thing, especially in overtime. Like, ‘yeah, maybe I let in some goals and that’s why we’re tied,’ but I need to erase all of that and focus on what’s ahead.”

This season, Descalso has assisted two out of three overtime goals. Despite being on the opposite side of the field, Descalso said many of the team’s offensive opportunities begin with Clough. When she makes a save, it takes a full-field transition to be able to create plays.

“It’s so awesome to be able to be in that moment with all your teammates because yeah, I may have scored the goal, but I got the pass from someone else playing defense who stopped the ball and so on,” Descalso said. “It’s really a full team effort.”

The Bombers will enter postseason play as the top seed in the Liberty League, allowing them a bye out of the first round. They will next host the Vassar College Brewers in the Liberty League semifinal game Nov. 3. 

With valuable experience under their belts and more high-stakes games approaching, Descalso said she and her teammates are prepared to face whatever the remainder of the season throws at them.

“We’ve been in that situation so many times that there’s no reason to be afraid anymore,” Descalso said. “As soon as that whistle blows, we’re ready.”

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Tess Ferguson, Former Sports Editor
Nolan Saunders, Photographer
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